This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Aaron Judge stood in the center of the Yankees’ clubhouse on Wednesday evening, surrounded by a half-circle of television cameras and outstretched recording devices. His eyes pointed directly toward the double doors at the entrance, knowing that no more outside assistance would be coming through.
For better or worse, the 2023 Yankees are who they are.
“It’s tough when you look at the standings to see where we’re at, and see what other teams are doing,” Judge said. “But we’ve got to stay focused on us. We’ve got plenty of stuff we need to work on here, and we’ve got to continue to push forward with what we’re doing.
“We’ve got to execute our plan. We’ve got to prepare better. We’ve got to make adjustments. That’s the only way you get out of something like this. You look internally.”
The Yankees’ underwhelming performance pinned the front office between buying and selling before the Trade Deadline, with indecision ultimately becoming their decision.
The team’s on-field performance did not advertise a championship contender needing only one or two solutions, though their placement in the standings — 3 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot as the Deadline ticked away — did not spell doom, either.
“I know we’ve said it all season, but we haven’t been playing to our potential, and that’s true,” pitcher Nestor Cortes said before Wednesday’s 7-2 win over the Rays. “Hopefully we can turn it around.”
So general manager Brian Cashman watched the 6 o’clock hour pass that night having made only a couple of minor moves, bringing pitchers Keynan Middleton and Spencer Howard aboard, and casting a reluctant vote of confidence for a lineup that has hardly earned it to this point.
“It’s nose to the grindstone. It really is,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We’re in a position where we’ve got a chance. We understand that we’ve got to play better, and that’s what we’re working hard to do. We know it’s about us in that room now.
“[The Deadline] has come and gone. There’s not going to be any more changes from outside of the organization. It’s on us to try and put our best foot forward every day to try and get right back in the middle of the race.”
Although still compromised by the torn ligament in his right big toe, Judge’s return has added a sorely missed presence of danger to the top of the Yankees’ lineup.
“Everybody in this clubhouse wants to win,” Judge said. “That’s why we’re here.”
Yet, the reigning American League MVP cannot do it alone. It’s up to veterans such as DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton to rewrite the story, one they can only change by finding a way to put up numbers more like the ones on the backs of their baseball cards.
As Cashman said: “They’re professionals. They’re obviously extremely talented. So hopefully they’re saving the best baseball for the last few months.”
“We’ve got to wear the pitchers down,” Stanton said. “Get them out of the game early, get into that bullpen and just grind out at-bats, over and over again. Make it tough.”